MLP:FiS is property of Hasbro.

SoaSE is propert of Stardock Games.

This insanity is mine.

Friends of a Solar Empire

It had been one thousand years.

One thousand years since Celestia banished her sister to the depths of space.

One thousand years since the Trade Order had last forced their hand on a sovereign world.

And little less than one thousand years since Humans and Ponykind first shook hand and hoof.

It had been nine hundred and eighty years since Equestrians first travelled through space; Nine hundred and seventy five years since the first cargo ship docked on their first space station; Nine hundred and sixty since they made their first colonies amongst the stars and Nine hundred and thirty since their first home-made phase drive streaked to alien worlds.

It had been a golden age for the Trade Order, for humans, for ponies, for griffons and diamond dogs.

Until the Vasari came.

At first, we didn't stand a chance. A millennium of peace and prosperity makes you soft. World after world after system fell to them, stripped of resources and slaves. No one could stop them.

And then one man did.

Verek Kol, the hero of the Traders. He rallied the merchants of the surrounding systems, and told them to arm themselves. Ferries, cargo ships and pleasure ships were covered in patchwork armor. Lasers, missiles and auto cannons were salvaged from museums and scrapyards. Pegasi and Griffons became fighter pilots. Earth ponies and diamond dogs became infantrymen and gunners. Equestrian and human technicians made the first shields in one thousand years. Businessmen and ponies became commanders, telescopes became sights, news networks became battle nets, and civilians became soldiers.

A fleet of peace became a fleet of war.

And, when the Vasari came, they gave them a hell of a fight.

Verek would never live to see it, but the actions of that one, small, plucky fleet would be heard across Trader space. They woke us from our peaceful ignorant slumber, drove the Council to make the decisions it had to.

The Trader Emergency Coalition was born, a military force tasked with defending our homes from the invaders and backed by the monstrous wealth of the Trade Order. A giant woke up that day.

And it's been ten years since then. Ten years of fighting and war on the front. Even the most peaceful of worlds have volunteers fighting the Vasari.

We drew a line in the sand, and after ten years of sacrifices, no one has managed to cross it.

The Vasari are being held at bay, and High Command has authorized a rotation of the combat forces, replacing war-weary veterans with fresh graduates from military training. Heaven knows we've earned it.

An Akkan battlecruiser is a military oddity.

Based on the Gevene-class cruise ships, which were in turn converted Elsa-class colony ships, it is intended to ferry refugees from heavy combat zones, and to reestablish industry on reclaimed worlds. As a result, it has a very large civilian crew. Add the fact that they are usually owned by private enterprises who often insist on having their own crews on the ship, and you have a potential nightmare involving the chain of command.

The most common solution to that problem (besides simply training the entire crew for combat) had been to establish a dual command structure. The civilian side of the ship was under the supervision of one Captain, often appointed by the propietor of the ship, and the military side was under the command of an executive officer, appointed by TEC high command. Unless the ship was under fire, the Captain was in command. If combat arose, the executive officer took charge.

This measure was mostly to appease the owners of the ship, as the nature of war often made sure that the civilian side would soon become as familiar with the niceties of space combat as the actual military officers, and would even be capable of fulfilling their roles, if the time came. That being said, their jobs consisted mostly of handing and taking care of the passengers, as well as solving the sort of problems lasers couldn't.

This arrangement handily explained why one of the first ships with a mixed human-equestrian crew was an Akkan. The ship in question, the On To the Stars, was owned by a family of wealthy Crystal miners from Equestria, with one of its heirs as Captain.

Although, truth to be told, Rarity would much rather have been running her old shop than a ship.

"Phase Drive disengaging, we are now in the Equestrian gravity well. We'll be in orbit in five minutes." There was a slight pause, before the quiet voice added, "Please take care of yourselves down there."

Rarity couldn't resist a smile, "Oh, Fluttershy, you really shouldn't worry about our crew! I'm sure they can handle themselves down there!"

The pegasus in question switched off the headset she wore and carefully set it on the console. "That's what you said last time, ma'am."

The unicorn waved off her friend's concerns, reclining on the soft chair, "Oh pish posh! They certainly know better than to do that two times in a row!" She gave her a mischievous smile, "Besides aren't you the one to talk sugarcube? Why, I certainlyremember you having a hoof in that particular incident! Right Colonel?"

A human male with dark hair, bright eyes, clean shaven face and crisp blue uniform looked up from the holographic map in the center of the Command Centre, an apple eating grin on his face at the memory. "Yes she did, ma'am."

The surrounding crewmembers tried their best to keep a straight face, with varying results. The incident in question, a truly epic shore leave between missions, had become legendary amongst the crew, although openly talking about it near the sensitive Pegasus had been discouraged.

Fluttershy seemed to shrink, her voice shrinking with her. "Ma'am, I thought we weren't going to talk about...that."

Rarity reached over to ruffle her friend and NAV officer's mane. "Oh, but we're not talking about it at all! Just a bit of group reminiscing, that's all."

Fluttershy blushed, and shrunk as much as a pony could without physically changing size.

"Still," Rarity tapped her chin with her hoof, "Lietenant Fluttershy has a point. No need for a repeat of that experience."

Her hoof snapped up to point at the Colonel. "Colonel Rekav, you are forbidden from gambling anything."

The Colonel simply smiled. "No problem, ma'am."

"Lieutenant Fluttershy, please send a memo to the rest of the crew regarding the list of things I will notbail them out of."

Fluttershy called up the holographic keyboard on her conole. "Yes ma'am."

"As for the rest of you, we're not there yet, so get back to your jobs!"

A chorus of affirmatives came from the ponies and humans, and the griffon piloting the ship.

Satisfied that any insanity had been thoroughly prevented, Captain Rarity leaned back on the chair. She'd been waiting to come back home for quite some time now. Her parents had had a little filly while she had been away, and she couldn't wait to see her face to face.

As much as she loved this ship, she missed her old hometown and the little shop she'd run before volunteering to help with the situation over in the frontlines. She hadn't been Captain when they set off, that had been an old earth pony that had had to be sent planet-side from some illness. When the replacement failed to arrive due to raiding, her family had put her in charge. At least, on paper. In reality, she'd let the Colonel run the ship, since she had absolutely no idea what to do.

After half a year of impromptu apprenticeship, she became confident enough to do what the official papers claimed she was doing. She ran a tight, clean ship, and passengers would often comment that the officers of the On To The Starslooked startlingly similar to those of recruitment posters. She'd warred against the strictly utilitarian aesthetics of the TEC, going so far as to have her mechanics rearrange the power cables for the lasers to hide them from view. Although still dissatisfied with the results, the interior of the ship was much more appealing than on other ships, while still somehow remaining functional.

Rarity smiled. Travelling to other worlds had given her all sorts of ideas she could work on when she returned to her little shop in Ponyville. She couldn't wait to get back to her sowing machine!

Spike was roused from his near-slumber by Twilight's voice.

"Is that a Kol?"

Until that moment, the lavender unicorn had been completely silent, engrossed in the holographic text in front of her. The baby dragon unbuckled himself from his seat and peered around Twilight to look out the window.

Out there in the distance, barely visible in the starry backdrop, was a tiny shape. That they could see it in the first place probably accounted as a minor miracle in itself, the sheer size of space meant that encounters like this were usually rare.

Twilight's horn shimmered into a faint glow, and a circle of air in front of the window distorted, magnifying the image of the distant battleship.

Spike whistled, it was a Kol. He'd only seen pictures of the things before, but now that he was seeing the real deal, he came to the conclusion that the pictures didn't do the thing justice. There was something about the Kol that -even when it was cruising serenely through space- made it seem like it was three seconds away from shooting something. It was probably the huge gun on the underside.

Spike then noticed something odd about this particular Kol.

"Hey, isn't it going the same way we are?"

Twilight took a closer look at the ship. "I think it is," she answered, "Talk about coincidences." She raised an eyebrow, "I thought Kols were rare."

"Well, maybe it's good luck?" Spike offered, shrugging, "Seeing a super-rare battleship on your first visit to Equestria?"

Twilight snorted, "Please, even if I believed in things like omens, Kols are usually in the most brutal areas of fighting. If anything, they're bad luck." She frowned ever so slightly, a pout on her muzzle, "And it's not my first visit to Equestria!"

Spike couldn't help but look incredulous. "How come?" he said, "I've never seen you go down there before!"

"Well, I went 'down there' plenty of times before you came along!"

Spike poked the unicorn's back, "Oh yeah? How many times have you been to a planet before?"

Twilight fell silent.

Spike poked her some more. "C'mon, confess!"

"…To a planet? Once, in Cirno. The only other rock I've been to was Muira." She finally answered, the last word becoming oddly soft.

Spike stopped poking her. "Oh," Was all he could say.

Well, Muira certainly didn't count as a planetary visit. For one thing, it was an asteroid. For another….

He gave Twilight a small backrub as a way to say "I'm sorry I brought that up."

"Well cheer up! I'm sure that, whatever the Princess wants us for, we'll be fine here!"

"Twilight, this is seriously freaking me out."

"I know! Since when does Equestria have all these warships in orbit?"

Prior to that moment, neither unicorn nor dragon knew it was possible to have a traffic jam in space.

Now, they did.

The mostly civilian-centered Argonev in orbit over Equestria was absolutely overrun by shuttles and other craft. Nearly every single type of military craft seemed to be trying to dock into the station, and the four large docking booms on the lower levels actually had queue going on, the Kol they had seen earlier was waiting for its turn besides an Akkan and looking more and more like it was five seconds away from shooting something. The other booms were occupied by a Sova, a Marza, and a Dunov.

The shuttle they were on seemed to be fifty second in line for one of the ports, and Spike now understood why dragons never used spaceships if they could afford not to. Twilight seemed to have shut off everything except the glowing text in front of her.

Spike was now peering past Twilight and out the window in absolute boredom. He was looking at the ships there, when one of them caught his eye: a big, brick-like lump of a grey armor.

Twilight must've caught sight if it on the corner of her eye, because she immediately snapped her head to look intently at the passing Kodiak, her horn glowing with a magnification spell to look at the registration numbers.

Spike tried looking past Twillight's shoulder, without much success. "Any luck?" he asked.

The unicorn scrutinized the numbers, sighed, and went back to reading. "No, still not it." She answered.

Spike gave her shoulder a small pat. "Eh, you'll find them eventually."

Twilight shut off her portable computer, the hologram in front of her blinking out of existence and peered through the window. "Well, one of these ships must be them."

Spike snapped his claws, "Exactly! Besides, it gives us something else to do while we wait for these people to get their act together."

Twilight giggled at the thought of the traffic controllers scrambling around deep inside the Argonev. They huddled up next to the window, watching ships pass by

They'd been waiting for what felt like hours, watching as other shuttles docked into the station with an envy shared by the rest of the passengers until the captain announced that the auxiliary docking booms had been brought out in light of the increasing traffic, and the flow picked up the pace.

Still, by the time the familiar sounds of a docking spacecraft filled the passenger cabin, Spike was sure their connection for Canterlot had already left. And, if Twilight's twitching was any indication, so was she.

It turns out that the station was just as crowded on the inside as on the outside. The grim metal corridors the Traders favored were chock full of uniformed men, women, ponies, diamond dogs and even a few griffons. The cheerful holographic advertisements failed to provide any cheer, and only added to the din.

"Oy! Watch it!" Spike cried at yet another pair of legs that bumped into them and nearly made him loose his balance on top of Twilight's back. The unicorn seemed to be an instant away from throwing everyone away with telekinesis, and although Spike couldn't blame her, he'd rather that not happen.

"Spike…" He heard Twilight voice beneath him, sounding very, very close to snapping.

"Keep it together Twi', just a little longer!" he shouted over the din.

Thankfully, the corridor ended, and they entered a large chamber, where the crowd they were in quickly fanned out, much to Twilight's unhidden relief. The room they were in occupied the majority of the space in the civilian section of the Argonev, and one could have parked a decent-sized spaceship inside. It looked like an inverted pyramid, with catwalks along the sides and a central pillar with shops, services and a restaurant on top. Screens on the bulkheads featured a view of space in lieu of windows and, if Spike leaned over the railing to peer all the way downstairs, he would have seen an enormous electric spiral staircase leading down towards the atmospheric shuttle bays.

Of course, you couldn't simply walk into the shuttle bays. You had to get your ticket down to the planet, and your luggage verified so as to be clean of anything that might upset the ecosystem or whatever.

At least, that was what Twilight had read about in "The Traveller's Guide to Trader Space". That she had to do any research involving a space station had been embarrassing. She prided herself on being able to find where anything was in any space habitat you could find. She was sure she could navigate the corridors of the Deep Space Academy of the Sciences and Magic with her eyes closed.

However, when it came to actually going from space station to planet, she had been forced to admit she knew absolutely nothing about it.

She booted up the portable computer hanging from her neck, hologram flickering to life in front of her. According to what she'd read, she could buy the electronic ticket on the Broadcast Network. She quickly entered the page, and bought the ticket for the next available flight to Canterlot Spaceport.

To her eternal dismay, it was five hours away. All the other flights were booked to the brim.

Spike became aware of the unicorn's increasingly frazzled appearance.

"Oh, boy."

"Would you look at that unicorn Colonel?"

The Colonel turned from the hologram floating in front of him to look out the window and at the area surrounding the restaurant -which was kindly offering a discount for people with TEC uniforms-, setting down the glass full of what Rarity was still certain was not actually a drink, but some form of fuel.

"Which one, ma'am?" he asked.

"The lavender one, Rekav, with the baby dragon on her back."

The Colonel centered his view on the appropriate unicorn.

"Ah, yes. She seems lost ma'am." he said. 'Lost' was an understatement, the unicorn looked seconds away from losing her mind.

Rarity brought her hooves together in front of her muzzle. "Why, I'm willing to bet this is her first time in this dreadfully crowded station." Her eyes filled with empathy, "Poor thing."

The Colonel mentally counted off the seconds in his head. Rarity was a generous, charitable soul. And it was that same generosity and charity that had led her to go off halfway across the galaxy and brave entire fleets to help people escape the Vasari.

He managed to count to three before Rarity spoke again.

"Oh Lieutenant Fluttershy, could you be a dear and bring her over? I simply cannot sit here and watch anyone lose their marbles like that!"

The pink maned Pegasus gave her a timid salute, and left the table.

Satisfied with her actions, she turned back to the Colonel. "Well, have you found out anything about the horrid traffic jam outside?"

The Colonel, shrugged, sipping his drink (for a given definition of 'drink'). "Looks like High Command's recommended Equestria as a great place for R&R, and the Prime minister agreed to it. Heck, they even got Celestia's blessing and all that."

Rarity could help but feel proud that her home world would attract weary soldiers in need for peace, "Why I'm sure you military types will find plenty of R&R over here! Equestria's always been a peaceful world, just what you need to forget about the war for a few months."

The Colonel smiled that smile of his, "You say that as if you weren't a military type, ma'am."

Rarity made an exaggerated motion for him to stay quiet, "Hush now, I need to keep appearances!"

The Colonel sipped his drink, resisting the urge to chuckle. It was a running joke on the ship that Rarity, as well as 'her' side of the crew, was still a civilian, despite having as much military know how as the rest of the ship, and was even eligible to the same medals.

"Have you found out about the other ships here?" she asked.

Rekav nodded, "Plenty. Fortieth and ninety first fleets are here. The Sova we saw's the Endless Sky, home of the Wonderbolts. The Dunov's a local, the Ninety Nine Acres. She's owned by the Apples, I heard."

Rarity perked up at this. "The Apples? Why, I happen to be quite close to one of them!"

The Colonel raised an eyebrow. "Really ma'am?"

"Yes, her name's Applejack. She's one of my old school friends. Her brother's probably in that ship."

The Colonel nodded, and made a mental note to have an excuse for not going if he was ever roped up with the Captain and her friends.

"Hmm…" he continued reading the list of ships at the station, and paled.


Rarity was startled. The Colonel never swore, and if he did, it was usually after a situation had gotten to the point most people would be out of offensive vocabulary.

"What is it?"

The Colonel's hand collided with his face. "The Marza's the TDN Drake."

Rarity, if anything, became even paler.

"Oh dear," she gave a glance around the room, "I… I hope Fluttershy doesn't meet anyone from there…"

"Likewise, ma'am."

Rarity took a deep breath. The Drake's crew hadn't reached here yet, if it had, they would have certainly made their presence known.

"Any other surprises, Colonel?"

"Well the Kol's-"

"-the TDN Novus. My ship by the way."

Unicorn and human, as well as most of those sitting at the table, whirled around to look at the new arrival. It was a man, with slightly dark skin and a greying beard and hair, wearing the fancy half-cape and shoulder pads of an Admiral.

There was a scramble as those immediately present rose to salute him.

Rarity was quick to address the stealthy Admiral, "Captain Rarity reporting, sir! Sorry, I didn't see you coming, sir!"

The Admiral crisply returned the salute, "At ease, ladies and gentlemen." He said, and pulled up a chair from a nearby, empty table, "Would you mind if I sat here for a moment?" he asked.

Rarity beamed, an Admiral at her table! Who've thought?

"Of course not, sir!"

Rarity returned to her seat, along with her bridge crew. As the man was took a seat next to her, she got a glimpse of the nametag on the man's lapel, and boggled.

This wasn't a regular Admiral.

Had anyone told Rarity she'd be sharing a table with Admiral Wilkhaim Kol, she'd have died laughing.

Twilight was partway through seriously considering teleporting her way down to the planet when she heard a small voice.

"Um, are you okay?"

"No! Nonononononono! Not okay! Definitely not okay! I should have been at Canterlot hours ago! Now I'm stuck here because everyone in every ship in the Trade Order decided today was the perfect day to come over to Equestria and they're all gotten tickets before me and now I'm so late I'll be breaking the record for being late to an appointment and as a result I'll be banished to the su-!"

Twilight was suddenly aware of two things. First, of the increasingly desperate prodding from Spike on her back and second, she had, at one point, come face to face with a young Pegasus mare with a mink mane and cream coat, who shaking quite badly.

The third thing to enter her mind was the fact that the shaken, dazed, and possibly catatonic Pegasus was wearing TEC Defense Navy blues. Her returning peripheral vision also informed her that the surrounding sentiments had suddenly given her a wide berth, as if saying "Let's get away from this madmare."

Twilight considered teleporting away, if only to go someplace far, far away from here.

A nervous laugh escaped her lips as she slowly backed away the TEC pony, and made a feeble attempt at straightening out her uniform with telekinesis, replacing the cap on her head.

"…Sorry?" she offered lamely.

The Pegasus glanced around at the on looking crowd.

"Could you follow me? My Captain would like to have a word with you."

Twilight was sure her coat and mane must have become white at that point. She opened her mouth to let loose a torrent of sincere and profuse apologies, but was halted when a hoof covered her mouth.

"Quietly, if that's okay with you." The Pegasus said, her voice still a quiet whisper.

Twilight kept her mouth shut, all manner of horrible consequences playing in her mind.

Oh no. Oh nononononono! What am I going to do? What are they going to do to me? The TEC can't punish civilians, can they?

You're not a normal civilian, Twilight, said the traitor in her head.

Oh, dammit! The Council is already jumpy about me! If they get wind that I attacked a TEC officer…

Wait, why are we going into a restaurant?

"…so I told him, "Well, I apologize, your Highness, but all the diamond engagement rings in the galaxy are not going to make me make space for all your luggage!"" Rarity laughed heartily, "The look on his face when I said that! Oh I sorely wish I had been carrying a camera right then!"

Admiral Kol laughed with just as much enthusiasm. "Prince Blueblood being refused? That must have at least left him in a coma!"

The Colonel joined in, smiling that smile of his. "It nearly did sir. We were actually discussing carting him to the medic when he snapped and started yelling nonsense."

The Admiral made an effort to stop laughing, "And that's when he had a fit right in the middle of the CIC?"

"Exactly sir!" Rarity lifted her glass with telekinesis -being careful not to take the Colonel's by mistake- and brought it to her lips, savoring the taste of fine Griffian wine. She continued, "So there I was, Vasari ponding me from out of range, civilians trying to dock with a huge shuttle in the way and a Prince throwing a tantrum right in front of my eyes!" The mad grin on her face, grew wider, "He was acting just like a little foal! When I asked Lieutenant Fluttershy to escort him to his quarters, I almost even told him he needed a time out!" She refilled her second glass that day, "Eventually, we jettisoned the shuttle –all full of gold and cars and paintings of himself-, loaded up the remaining civvies and got out of there. Once we weren't in danger of being killed, we simply couldn't stop laughing about it for weeks!"

The Admiral shook his head, proving that even legendary Admirals could smile like lunatics to appropriate anecdotes, "I should tell you about some really bone-headed human governors I've met. But I have a better story than that." He leaned in, a conspiring tone in his voice, "It goes like this: three years ago, back when I was still captain, we got sent to an asteroid field in the middle of nowhere because Intel had it that the Snakes had something valuable in it. Now, I'd been to asteroid fields before, but a couple of my crew hadn't, and only had holovids to go on."

The rest of the table had leaned in to listen. Rarity slowly nodded her head in sympathy. Despite millennia of years of space travel, the makers of holovids still couldn't quite grasp the scale of things in the void. Even the densest asteroid thicket had thousands of kilometers between each rock.

"Let me guess sir, they asked if the ship would fit through there?"

The Admiral nodded "Exact words, Captain. Now, the spacing of the gravity wells meant that we had a huge area to survey so the conservative estimate was we'd be there for a week, tops. Well, we'd been there for about two days or so when-"

"Um, Captain Rarity, I brought the unicorn you spotted."

Those sitting at the table looked up to see that Lieutenant Fluttershy had returned, with an incredibly confused, lavender unicorn with a frazzled dark blue mane with purple and pink stripes. The terminally shy Pegasus caught one glimpse of the Admiral, and shrank more than one would have thought possible without physically changing size.

A small draconian head peered past the unicorn's head, and winced.

"Oh boy."

Admiral Kol turned to look at Captain Rarity, both eyebrows raised.

"Ah, a guest of yours, Captain?" he asked, a very knowingsmile on his face.

Rarity then realized how invinting a random passing unicorn would look like to the Admiral, and resisted the urge to have her hoof meet her face.

And this was going so well…

Sometimes, Wilkhaim Kol just didn't understand what High Command was thinking some of the time. He was aware that the Trade Order Council had plenty of reason to trust Celestia, but to take her word on a fairy tale edged into the absurd.

Still, there wasn't much use complaining. He was already here, after all. He'd busied himself getting to know the Captains and crew he might have to command, if this "Nightmare Moon" turned out to be real. As his father once said, a commander who knows his soldiers as people can lead them where one who knows them as names on a file can't.

Prior to the war, the Kol clan had been regarded as oddballs in the Trade Order. Descended from migrants coming from a world ruled by a military dictatorship, they had found the average lifestyle of the Trade Order citizen completely incompatible with their way of life. So they decided not to change it in the slightest, raising their children using a slightly saner variant of the military regime their homeworld once had.

It turns out, that same disciplined upbringing made the Kols excellent mercenaries, bodyguards and manufacturers. And, when war came back in the form of alien invaders, it made them legendary.

Wilkhaim was one of four living Kols, the other three being Vakaras Kol, Admiral of the Navy; Mara Kol, Commander in chief of the Trader Planetary Forces; and his ten year old son, Eiphas Kol.

But enough family history, let us get back to the present.

Wilkhaim took only a moment to recognize the unicorn in front of him. He was quite familiar with the nature of Celestia's student; the TEC had extensive files on the… circumstances of her origin. To think lunatics on that scale could have been hidden for so long…

He sincerely hoped that there wasn't another one sharing the unicorn's misfortune.

Still, her presence here surprised him. As far as he knew, Twilight Sparkle had never set hoof on Equestria before, much less this station. He turned towards Captain Rarity, who had made her face appear blank.

"Ah, a guest of yours, Captain?" he asked.

"Well… in a fashion, sir. The civilian was appearing disoriented, and I had Lieutenant Fluttershy fetch her so I could give her some pointers, sir."

So, she wasn't here to escort her to the planet. This meant that Captain Rarity had chosen to aid a completely random unicorn that just happened to be Celestia's prized student.

The Admiral frowned internally. Had this sort of coincidence happened in a holovid, he'd have chalked it up to bad, cliché writing. And he had very little reason to suspect foul play, the other alternative.

The Admiral looked right into the Captain's eyes, and recalled one note on her record.

"So, were you planning on using military resources to assist her?"

The Captain winced. "Not particularly, sir."

The Admiral nodded in satisfaction, and pretended to inspect his drink, "Well, unfortunately, this civilian does warrant authorization of the use of military resources."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the pearly white mare briefly put on a look of utter confusion before returning her face to its blank state.

"Rea- I mean, yes, sir."

"Unless, of course, Celestia doesn't mind having her star pupil be held up by the traffic we're making."

The Admiral quite nearly smiled when Captain Rarity's eyes went as wide as dinner plates.

"O-of course not, sir!"

"Precisely." Wilkhaim took out the palm-sized brick that was the portable computer and booted it. Logging in to Kasztanka Station's Military Broadcast Network, he used the generous bureaucratic power that came with being a TEC Admiral to expedite a few special permits for Rarity. "I just gave your ship's atmospheric shuttle bay permission to send a shuttle to Canterlot Spaceport. I would also suggest you contact your teacher, Miss Sparkle."

The unicorn blinked a few times at the turn of events that had just occurred before her eyes. "I…I can do that? But yes! Of course I can! Why didn't I think of this earlier?" she rambled, and glanced around the on looking table full of TEC officers, "I'll be back in a minute!" she exclaimed, and trotted off to where she could get some privacy for composing her message.

The Admiral watched her leave, and went back to the hologram floating in front of him, frowning at the displayed time. He drained his glass and rose from the table, the rest of the officers doing likewise.

"Well, it appears I have to take my leave. I trust you shall escort her to the surface, Captain?"

"Yes sir, I'll do it myself, sir."

He nodded, "Good, then." He said, and gave a salute, "Dismissed."

The assorted species at the table returned the salute, and the Admiral left. He'd already met the bridge crew of the other capital ships, except for the Drake.

However, he was already quite familiar with the Drake's crew. They were surprisingly professional, and the captain was very dependable.

Just a little… well, nuts.

He recalled today's schedule, chock full of the paperwork necessary to deploy some auxiliary docks, meeting with representatives of the Ministry of Equestria and Celestia herself, the PR campaign politics demanded he be doing…

He sighed. Sometimes, the pay grade just didn't cut it.

The Captain had already left with the VIP, promising to return later on. Once the Admiral had left, Rarity had bombarded the poor unicorn about how it was like to be Celstia's personal student.

Fluttershy had remained at the restaurant, nibbling at a chocolate brownie. She'd gotten a temporary job at an animal clinic near where Rarity lived, and the Captain had offered to let her stay at her house. The Pegasus had quietly declined; she already had a place to stay until the next rotation.

She was minding her own business when she was startled by a horribly familiar, boisterous voice.

"AH! Look who we have here!"

Fluttershy froze, terrified of what she would see behind her, yet already knowing exactly who it was.

A barrel-chested bear of a man, with a bald head, prodigal beard and maniac grin appeared at the table, clapping an enormous hand on the Pegasus's shoulder.

"It is Lieutenant Fluttershy! From On to the Stars! You here for Arr and Arr too?"


"Ha! Good, good! Equestria, she is good world. Although I think weather is too hot sometimes, no?"


"Ahahaha! Yes, you understand! Now I must go, much to do! I must buy much alcohol, food, ice, rubber hose and hire man in penguin suit!" He gestured at the entire table, grinning like a madman. "Big party tonight! Just like in motherworld! And you are all invited! AL OF YOU!"

Without bothering to wait for a response, Captain Borr Vorskov left, cackling heartily.

Fluttershy sorely wished pegasi could shrink. She'd have loved to be able to do so.

Enter password: *******


Password confirmed.

Accessing file RRSTWSRI115893…

Accessing research footage #0001…

Playing footage…

Holovid of what looks like a nursery. A small lavender filly unicorn, with a dark blue mane and big, purple eyes stands rigidly in front of the camera.

"What's your name?"

"Subject five-five-four-two." the filly replies, the flat tone at odds with her age.

"That was a number, not your name. Could you tell us your name please?"

"Subject five-five-four-two."

The researcher sighs. "This is hopeless; we're just not getting through to her."

Someone else responds, a female. "Wait; let me try a different approach."

A rag doll comes into view, hoisted by unicorn telekinesis.

The doll waves a flappy foreleg "Hello! I'm Smartypants! What's your name?"

The filly is startled by the doll, jumping back a few feet away. She looks at it in confusion.

The doll bobbles up and down. "Aw, did I scare you? I'm really sorry! I just wanted to know your name."

The filly approaches the doll, and carefully noses it.

"Toy." she realizes, and sits down on her haunches, lifting her forelegs to wrap around the doll.

The other unicorn releases it. The filly lies down on the ground, holding it in her forelegs and nuzzling it.

"She's soft." she discovers, and nuzzles the toy some more.

"Hey! You never told Smartypants your name!"

The filly is suddenly horrified; she springs to her hooves, looking around for any source of danger.

"Don't worry; we're not going to hurt you. Just tell Smartypants your name, you real one this time."

Slowly, the filly lowers her guard and addresses the doll.

For the first time, she almost sounds like what she is. Like a child.

"I'm sorry Smartypants. My name is Twilight Sparkle."

"That's a wonderful name, Twilight! A wonderful name for a wonderful pony!"

The unicorn filly embraces the doll, a small smile on her face.

"Thank you." is all she says.

Holovid ends.

Now, let the flak begin!